I volunteered for duty in Saudi Arabia in August of 1994 while working at the 480th Intelligence Group at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Virginia because I thought it would be something fun to do! I rec'd my orders two weeks later. Most everyone told me I would hate it, and that I was crazy for volunteering. I dismissed them as I do most people who are negative and lack any real imagination. I flew to Shaw, AFB in Sumter, South Carolina for a three-day orientation before flying to Frankfurt, Germany via Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. By luck of the draw, I flew first class the entire way there. When we landed in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, it was night, and cool. We were driven directly to the mess hall and had midnight chow. I was shown to my quarters in Khobar Towers (which were later bombed in 1996 killing 19 Airman), and slept.
The next morning, everything was normal. I dressed in my desert camouflage battle dress uniform (BDU's) which I had rec'd during a three-month temporary duty assignment at USCENTCOM at MacDill AFB in Tampa, Florida the previous year and began in-processing. I was assinged a meal card, four more pairs of desert cami's, and a velcro patch with my name and rank on it. Everything stopped being normal the moment I stepped out the door. It was 125-degrees! Damn hot. Oddly enough, though the force of the heat stopped me in my tracks, I quickly acclimated, as there was no sweat involved. The intensity of the heat evaporated any moisture right from the skin, leaving you feeling slightly salty, yet cool. I now ritualistically mock those who ignorantly believe dry heat is just as bad as humid heat - they have no idea. I was beginning the USAF's 14th Rotation since the end of the ground war. I was following my uncle's footsteps. He was over here for over a year in the thick of it, as a supply officer, Chief Warrant Officer, Third Class (CWO3) United States Army. After my first day, watching the sun go down over Khobar Towers from the airstrip, I felt such a longing for home. What the hell was I doing here? Three months? I WASN'T GOING TO LAST THREE DAYS! It was the single most foreign thing I had ever seen or done, and I felt such longing for familiarity. Three months was going to be intolerable! Except...it wasn't. Except for that one moment (which I recall vividly to this day), I had a blast in Saudi Arabia.
ehowton & the RAF
I was in a very unique position in Saudi, as I was attached to the Royal Air Force Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre as liaison. I had no direct reporting USAF official, and was at the mercy of my RAF superiors. As I had spent several years in the United Kingdom previously, it took no time at all making friends among my new coworkers. We were kindred spirits. Over the next three months I went digging for the desert rose, learned how to critique handmade rugs, learned how to read the numbers one through 10 in Arabic, and fell in love (in my head) with a French Air Force Intelligence Officer (as the Brits hate the French and vise-versa, they used me, their liason, to interact with her.) She was funny, attractive, and possbily the only woman within 100 miles I wouldn't get castrated over talking to.
ehowton & the French Intelligence Officer
I was scheduled to fly out the weekend before Thanksgiving. Since I would not be flying to Texas, and had no family in Virginia, I made up my mind to give up my seat so some married serviceman could go home. This was going to extend me another month. As it was so very hot there, I had to run my three-miles daily after about 2200, when the temperature would plummet to the high-90's. At this point, bearable. I used to run around Khobar Towers, jealous of the rollerbladers who flew past me! I bought a pair from an airman who was leaving, strapped them on, and off I went! I was then jealous of all the runners who flew past me! Oddly enough, I can ice skate, but not rollerskate. I was told that rollerblading was like ice skating. That was a lie. I sold them to an airman who had just arrived. I was 190 pounds in Saudi. As far as I could tell, Khobar Towers got their water supply directly from the (then) Arabian Gulf. The salt content was so high, that after a shower, you felt much as you did before your shower. Very salty. All the water we drank was bottled, and there were pallets of water all over base, so that no matter where you were, you could drink. In case you got caught off base, everyone carried bleach tablets with them. One tablet per litre, 15 minutes to activate. Then you could drink the water. Thankfully, I never had use for mine.
Concerning Saudi women, and as a Texan, I found this very difficult, you're not allowed to acknowledge them. Do not hold the door open for them, do not even show you know they are there. If you do, you can be arrested. The last thing I wanted to do was go to jail in this place. What's worse, is making eye contact with them. NEVER EVER make eye contact with a female. That's another punishable offense. It gets worse. Even if you do accidently acknowledge them, or make eye contact - you must NEVER speak to them. EVER. Bad, bad news. That's an offense that can get you thrown out of the country overnight to save you from the Saudi penal system. And the holy grail of offenses? THERE SHALL BE NO PHYSICAL CONTACT. Don't ever touch a Saudi woman. These things were drilled into us from Day One. It just so happened I left base to do a little shopping at Safeway. Yes, they have a Safeway. It wasn't just any Safeway. They had the best of the best of the best each nation had to offer. Brazilian bananas, Belgian chocolates, the cream of each nation's GNP. I was behind this Saudi woman in the line. I had never seen an abaya (the black head-to-toe raiment they wear) this nice before, nor had I before been this close to a Saudi woman. Her entire outfit was threaded with gold, with the English word "Lady" embroidered in gold on her veil. I found myself staring at her eyes. Women in the United States know nothing about eye makeup. As this is the only part of a woman you are allowed to see (outside of possibly her hands) they take great care to highlight them with layers of beautifully sculpted tones of eyeshadow. I was mesmerized. The she made eye contact with me! I looked away, embarrassed. Soon, however, I found myself staring again. She again made eye contact with me! I was getting sloppy, and frightened. I didn't look again. Fortunately, a distraction. Several women had come up behind me, and asked in Arabic if they could put their items with hers, so they wouldn't have to stand in line. She agreed and I stepped back allowing the exchange to take place. (I couldn't understand Arabic, but it was obvious what was going on.) Then they tried to give her money to pay for the items, but she wouldn't accept. They tried again, but again, she turned them down. Then the "Lady" in front started speaking to me! (In Arabic, I didn't understand what she was saying). I looked away and turned. When I turned back, she spoke to me again! The man at the checkout was having a fit and began yelling. I looked away and turned again. Finally, the women behind me said in perfect English, "She wants to know if you would like her to pay for your items as well?" OMG! What was I to do? NEVER speak to a Saudi woman... The man at the counter was banging his hand on the checkout lane and now screaming. I shook my head no. But the women behind me asked yet again. Finally, under my breath, I managed a tight, "No thank you." That was it, the man was livid! Screaming and banging his fists now on the counter. That was when it happened. Looking straight at me, the "Lady" in front of me...touched me. I froze. The single most horrifying event in Saudi wasn't Operation Vigilant Warrior which was taking place around me as the Iraqi's amassed their forces on the demarcation line, no, it was what occurred in that Safeway. She exited, and the man begrudgingly checked me out with the evil eye on me the entire time. I felt lucky to escape the grocery store alive.
My new Nationality
There were many perks to being a Brit in Saudi. US Servicemen weren't allowed to leave country overnight. As a 'Brit' I was given documentation indentifying me as British Nationality. The Queen allowed us five days R&R every 22 days, and put us up in a five-star hotel in Bahrain, where we could eat likes Kings and attempt to drink the Nation dry. That's how I got my $75 free Steinlager T-shirt. That is, drink 10-pints of Steinlager, get a free T-shirt. The drinks in Bahrain were $7.50 a pint, hence, my $75 free T-shirt. I went twice, spending a total of 10-days in Bahrain. I kept up with many of my comrades (including the French Intelligence Officer) for several years. If SAC Dave Loose or Chief Technician Nick Town (ret.) is reading this, please contact me.
ehowton & the VC-10
Refueling Tornado's from the VC-10
My next flight out of Saudi was near. This one was the weekend prior to Christmas. For the same reasons above, I gave my seat up once again. Another month in Saudi. Our Squadron was invited to participate in a Tornado refueling mission. We boarded the giant VC-10 which had been refitted to be a huge flying gas tank. All the seats were stripped out, save for a dozen or so for aircrew. All the seats in VC-10 face the rear of the aircraft. Once we reached altitude, Tornado's started coming from the left and right. The drag-chutes were deployed, and the pilots had to insert their off-center refueling probe into the chutes. Not an easy feat at 30,000 feet! I was in the jump seat in the cockpit during landing. The Brits handed me a video camera to record the event. Bahrain is a long, thin island. As we approached, I was mortified to see that the airstrip was perpendicular to the length of the island! I could see both shores, one just prior to the airstrip, and the other just as it ended. Apparently, I was the only one harrowed by the orientation, as the aircrew had a good laugh over my incredulity.
Tornado's Reconnaissance View of refueling activity
Another unique aspect of being attached to the RAF was the vehicle situation. Each US Group rec'd one vehicle. Rather, the Officer In Charge (OIC) got it. If he wasn't using it that evening, then the next highest ranking officer got it, and so on. It was rare that anyone of my rank ever got to drive. They had a bus that would ferry airmen to and from base. The first thing the RAF did was issue me a Ministry of Defense driver's license, and allowed me pick of the entire fleet of cars they had onsite. Now, Saudi's are some CRAZY drivers, and I fit right in. Needless to say, I was quite popular with the US Airmen, always having a vehicle as my dispense. I rec'd mail through the APO (military post) system, and my father wrote me every single day that I was in Saudi. My girlfriend wrote me every other day...scented letters nonetheless. The US servicemen and women there were always quite jealous of this E4 who got letters everyday, had his own car, and didn't answer to seemingly anyone! Little did they know I did get my ass chewed on a couple of occasions by my British superiors. It was always quite humorous, being yelled at by someone with an accent, but I always wondered if they were going to hit me - which as far as I knew was perfectly acceptable behavior overseas. They never did.
During one of my trips to Bahrain, the Brits were very excited to take me to the "T-Shirt Shop" in the mall. I kept asking why they were so excited, but they never said a thing. However, on the escalator ride up to the second floor, all of them began thumping their cocks through their jeans. It was a most disturbing sight. I couldn't imagine what they were up to. All of them, thumping their cocks. We walked into the store in the mall, and were led through beads handing from the ceiling. These very attractive Philippine women emerged. Each of us was approached, groped (in a 'heft' sort of measurement) and lined up according to 'size.' The reasoning behind the incessant thumping was becoming clear. Once we were lined up, another woman came out with a backscratcher, and toyed with our members through our jeans. We each received a kiss on the very corner of the lips, and a business card. We were then escorted out. The Brits loved the expression on my face and boasted about who ended up at the head of the line. Very interesting indeed.
I had a great time, learned a lot, and am so thankful I didn't listen to assholes who would have prevented me from going because they'd heard it sucked. Now that's not to say that some of them didn't go and hated it - but those are the types of surly bastards that hate everything about life, no matter where they are, or what they're doing.
That's just not how I operate.